Special needs dance class starts in September

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 21, 2013

ST. CLAIR SHORES — It began as a collaboration between a dance studio and one of its parents.

Two years ago, Rhythm-N-Jump Dance Academy owner Suzette D’Andrea began working with a teacher in the Macomb Intermediate School District to develop a program for her students, all preschoolers on the autism spectrum.

It’s a class not seen on many dance studio schedules, but D’Andrea said it has been wonderful to interact and share her passion with the children.

“It’s amazing; it was so rewarding because when I would have them come in the first time, they would come in, they were covering their ears and crying and there was nobody here — it was just them — but they were scared,” she said. “By the time they left, no one was crying; they were smiling. The music went on and it’s like they become different children.”

The MISD teacher, Nicole Frederiksen, has taught in the Autism Spectrum Disorder program for 14 years. The program has classrooms throughout Macomb County, but her students come to the Born Center in Lake Shore Public Schools and include children from 3-6 years old living in St. Clair Shores, Eastpointe, Roseville and Harrison Township.

She said the partnership with D’Andrea has been a great experience.

“Really, getting out into the community and doing novel activities is always good for them, to give them a little different experience,” Frederiksen said. “The idea that music is involved is especially beneficial. Music is very therapeutic for a lot of our students on the spectrum.”

Over the two years she’s been bringing her class to the studio, Frederiksen said they’ve been able to learn sequential routines with similar moves every week, “so they kind of get used to it.”

The benefit, she said, goes beyond the dance moves, however.

“They met new people — they had to follow rules from other people,” she said. “I had one student, for example, the very first time we went, he was just very upset, very unsure, didn’t know what was going to happen.

“He kind of cried, shook his head. By the third or fourth week, he was in there dancing right next to Suzette and Rachel (Goral), and he looked at them and said, ‘Happy, happy.’ It really makes a nice difference for them — it really does.”

Although they may find it harder to express, Frederiksen said children on the autism spectrum want the same things typical children do.

“They want to be with other people, they want to experience pride and they want to have a feeling of accomplishment,” she said. “They have the same feelings that you or I or the other children have, and they don’t always get the opportunity” to express them.

Because it’s been so successful, D’Andrea said she has decided to offer a similar class on her regular schedule for other special needs children and their parents.

The new special needs creative movement class will be offered for a half-hour at 11:15 a.m. on Saturdays and will be taught by Goral, a student at Oakland University majoring in special education. It costs $25 per month.

Like the class D’Andrea runs for the MISD students, Goral’s class will focus on preschool music, like the ABC song, the Hokey Pokey and Wheels on the Bus, with repetition of movement for children 3-7 years old in the class.

“It was like, every class after these kids would leave, I would just be in tears because it’s just overwhelming to see the joy in those little kids’ faces,” D’Andrea said.

Frederiksen said her students love their dance class.

“In dance, you are being challenged by only you. You’re competing against you,” she said. “It’s really familiar to them right now. Even the ones that are newer to it, it takes them two or three times, and then they’re ready to go every time.”

Rhythm-N-Jump Dance Academy is located at 31503 Harper Ave. For more information or to sign up for the class, call (586) 298-6875 or visit www.rhythm-n-jump.com.